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Chamomile - A Delicate but Tough Herb for the Garden and the Kitchen

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German Chamomile

German Chamomile

Photo courtesy Henrique Schaefer / stock.xchng.

Overview :

German chamomile is a delicate looking plant that is surprisingly tough. The ferny foliage tends to flop over and the tiny flowers look like miniature daisies. Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is often used as a groundcover or creeping plant used to soften the edges of a stone wall or walkway. Roman chamomile is a perennial. The German chamomile discussed here is the annual herb used for making tea. Both the leaves and the flowers are used for tea. Some people think chamomile has a slight apple-like taste. The leaves can be more bitter than the flowers.

Latin Name:

Matricaria recutita

Common Name: German Chamomile, Scented Mayweed

USDA Hardiness Zone:

Annual that self-seeds.

Exposure:

Full Sun / Partial Shade

Mature Size:

8-24" (H) x 6-12" (w)

Bloom Period:

Late Spring
Chamomile has an almost wildflower look about it. The fragrant flowers are daisy-like with white petals surrounding a yellow disk. The stems aren’t particularly strong and bend and flop as the plant grows taller. German chamomile is grown as an annual, but it will self-seed and can be quite aggressive if left unchecked. If the flowers are harvested, invasiveness shouldn’t be a problem.

Design Suggestions:

Chamomile isn't great as a bedding plant. It tends to be too floppy and insignificant when paired with more formal and imposing plants. It can be used for underplanting in the herb or vegetable garden and is a good candidate for pots, where it’s easily accessible.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Matricaria recutita German Chamomile- You won't often see named varieties of chamomile.

  • Chamaemelum nobile. Roman Chamomile- An alternative plant, Roman Chamomile is a perennial plant often used as a groundcover and between stones and pavers. (Zones 3 - 9)

Growing Tips:

German chamomile is easy to start from seed. Start seeds indoors, about 6 weeks before the last expected frost. Chamomile seed needs light to germinate, so simply scatter the seed and press firmly onto the soil, but do not cover the seed with soil. Seed should germinate in 7 to 14 days.

You can also direct seed German chamomile outdoors. You’ll get better germination if you do this in the fall and let the seed stratify over winter, for a spring crop.

Chamomile will flower best if grown in full sun and not too rich organic soil. It will survive in poorer soils, but the stems will be that much floppier. Chamomile is not particular about soil pH, preferring a neutral range of between 5.6 and 7.5.

Maintenance: Regular water will keep the plants in bloom longer, but the plants are very drought tolerant, once established. In extremely hot climates, chamomile will appreciate being kept watered and some afternoon shade.

Problems: Most insects stay clear of chamomile. In fact, it is used as an cucumber pest deterrent. However, aphids and thrips can sometimes be a problem. Both can be washed off the plant or treated with insecticidal soap.

Harvesting: Harvest the chamomile flowers when fully open. They can be used fresh or dried and stored for later use.

Related Video
How to Plant an Herb Garden

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